Power Player: In The Driver's Seat

As Georgia’s Gov. Nathan Deal has made economic development and job creation a hallmark of his administration, you can be sure that the person he chose to lead the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD) will be in the driver’s seat in terms of boosting Georgia’s economic growth.

Chris Carr, the newly appointed commissioner, comes to this role well equipped. A Dunwoody native, Carr is also a double-Dawg from the University of Georgia, with degrees from the Terry College of Business and later the Lumpkin School of Law.

Prior to joining GDEcD, Carr served as the longtime chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson. Commis-sioner Carr’s private sector experience also includes stints at Georgia-Pacific and Alston & Bird LLP, as well as serving as general counsel of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

“I have not spent my life in economic development, but my career in public policy allowed me to lead some great teams,” Carr says. “This department serves as the quarterback for economic development in Georgia.”

Carr says that job creation often requires complex and coordinated efforts, involving Georgia Power, regional and local EMCs and chambers of commerce, as well as county development and industrial park authorities, all working in concert.

The Deal administration tallies job creation totals well exceeding 200,000 on their watch, with 389 corporate relocations or major expansions by existing employers during 2013. Though it is the larger job announcements that receive the bulk of attention, those are not always the primary drivers of job growth in Georgia.

“We get 66 percent of our new job growth from existing industry and organic expansion by business already in Georgia,” Carr says. “Foreign direct investment, relocation project recruitment and trade projects will always be on our radar, but creating and maintaining an overall positive and integrated business climate remains at the top of our list.”

Carr refers to a “new normal,” a post-recession phrase often used by his longtime former boss, Sen. Isakson.  This new focus incorporates a more integrated approach to outreach and project management, ranging from the pursuit of deepening the Port of Savannah’s shipping channel and operating 11 international trade offices to doubling-down on existing industry strengths.

During 2013, tourism was a $51-billion industry in Georgia. One of GDEcD’s more recent successes is agritourism, which includes wineries, festivals and large public events with a green hook. This subsector of tourism is becoming one of the fastest-growing vertical segments in the industry.

“Georgia is increasingly becoming a destination, and that is the case for tourism, film production, economic development, and industry and employer relocations,” Carr says.

He points to the effectiveness of targeted tax policy, such as the film industry and production tax credits that have lured studio development by Pinewood Atlanta Studios in Fayette County, EUE/Screen Gems at the old Lakewood Fairgrounds and the always expanding production facilities of Tyler Perry.

In Brooks County, the GDEcD worked with several state agencies to enhance the region’s tourism marketing, resulting in Destination Brooks, a thriving nonprofit tourism organization. Their efforts include the Brooks County Skillet Festival, which features a Cast Iron Cooking Competition and 5K and won recognition by the Guinness Book of World Records for having the most folks – 266 – simultaneously toss an iron skillet. 

In Senoia south of Atlanta, the once dying town has seen a resurgence, thanks in large part to the film production boom, and in particular AMC’s The Walking Dead. Today there are 46 thriving shops, restaurants and tourism-themed enterprises, as well as a daily Walking Dead tour.

Carr and his team of seasoned economic development and tourism professionals are making sure that visitors such as these sit down and stay a while, and whenever possible put down some roots and make the Peach State their new roost.

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